Tom Ginsburg on Showdown Between Sudan and South Sudan

Rebel Without a Cause: Playing Chicken in South Sudan
Tom Ginsburg
The Huffington Post
June 12, 2012

The old James Dean movie Rebel without a Cause has a scene in which two drivers race stolen cars toward an abyss, with the first one to jump out being deemed a chicken. Something similar seems to be going on in East Africa, where the world's newest country, the South Sudan, is engaged in a high-stakes game of brinksmanship with Sudan, the country that it broke away from last year. Whether the two governments step back from the abyss or plunge into a destructive war neither can afford is very much up in the air, with China holding the key to a solution.

The conflict is a hangover from the twenty-year civil war that led to the breakup of the Sudan in the first place. There is no love lost between the two sides. The international community helped broker the divorce, and an international arbitration helped to delineate the border in 2009. The South was left with most of the oil, but the port is in the north. This requires the two countries to come up with a division of the revenue.

Sudan has demanded an extortionary $36 per barrel to allow the oil to transit its territory; South Sudan has countered with an offer of $1 per barrel. Earlier this year, frustrated with the north's offer, the South cut off the oil tap. The problem was that the government in Juba relied on oil for 98 percent of its revenues, and they hadn't adequately secured alternative sources of funds. The South seems to have the attitude that it is the tougher of the two sides, a view no doubt forged over twenty years of civil war. Furthermore, it may have decided that war may help distract the South Sudanese from their various internal divisions, which have erupted in inter-tribal violence.

Tom Ginsburg